Tens of thousands march as Taiwanese debate gay marriage

TAIPEI (AFP) - Tens of thousands took to the streets of Taiwan on Saturday to protest against same-sex marriages, as a debate rages in Parliament over a Bill which would legalise such unions.

The organisers of a demonstration outside the presidential office - Happiness of the Next Generation Alliance - said around 100,000 attended, calling for marriage to remain between members of the opposite sex.

"The Bill will amend the law so there is no (distinction) between man and woman, husband and wife... we respect gay people but please don't change our law," organiser Tang Chien-ming said.

Police declined to say how many had turned out, while elsewhere in the city a smaller rally in support of the same-sex marriage bill took place.

Under the "diverse family formation" bill currently going through Parliament, the terms "man and woman," "husband and wife" would be changed to "two parties" and "spouses," respectively.

Wang Chien-hsun, head of the government watchdog 'Control Yuan' said the public, not Parliament, should decide the matter.

"I support holding a referendum so everybody can express their opinions as this concerns the country's future, it's not just about two persons loving each other," he said.

Supporters of the Bill displayed rainbow flags and chanted slogans including "support diverse family formation, oppose discrimination" as they rallied near Parliament.

"Same-sex marriage is a basic human right that the government has the obligation and responsibility to maintain and promote. (The government) should not passively wait for public consensus to be reached," said organiser Lin Yi-chia.

Surveys show Taiwan is divided over the legalisation of gay marriage.

According to a poll of 1,377 people by the cable news channel TVBS earlier this month, 45 per cent oppose same-sex union while 40 per cent are in favour of it.

Gay and lesbian groups in Taiwan, one of Asia's most liberal societies, have been urging the government for years to legalise same-sex unions.

Last month, more than 60,000 people marched in Taipei in the 11th annual gay parade - the largest of its kind in Asia.

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